People sometimes raise chickens themselves because they want access to fresh eggs. Over time they bond with these animals, give them names, and interact with them like they would any other pet. If you’re familiar with poultry farming, however, you know that billions of chickens are denied such healthy relationships. Whether they are raised to lay eggs, or for their meat, chickens in factory farming operations suffer needless cruelty and death.
If you want to know the facts about the poultry farming industry, this guide will take you deep into the bowels of the businesses that treat chickens as nothing more than commodities.
Chickens Are the Land Animal Most Frequently Killed for Food
PETA calls chickens “arguably the most abused animals on the planet.” Not only are they the land animals killed most often for feeding humans, but more chickens are killed for food each year than all other land animals put together.
Poultry farming disrupts the family units of chickens, denies these animals the social interactions and good nutrition they need, and otherwise forces them into cruel conditions until they are inhumanely slaughtered.
This is all because people can’t get enough eggs, fried chicken, baked chicken, chicken casserole, and chicken salad. If we all gave up those foods and replaced them with plant-based substitutes, these chickens wouldn’t have to face the cruel realities of poultry farming.
What Is Poultry Farming?
Poultry farming is the agricultural practice of breeding and raising birds (typically chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese) and harvesting their meat or eggs. Poultry farmers are responsible for the slaughter of tens of billions of birds per year.
Disease runs rampant in the poultry farming industry, and chickens are regularly abused. Animal rights group Compassion Over Killing recently sent a member undercover at a Maryland poultry farming operation. The employee caught raw, graphic footage that appeared to show employees intentionally abusing chickens.
Poultry farms are designed for maximum efficiency. The speed with which these operations “process” chickens often results in extremely painful deaths for the birds. Worse still, as Compassion Over Killing was highlighting with their undercover report, the permitted “processing” speed has recently increased in certain plants from 140 to 175 chickens per minute.
What Are Layer Hens?
Layer hens are the female chickens who spend their entire lives laying eggs for commercial purposes. The operation collects the eggs and packages them for supermarkets and restaurants all over the world. Many people believe that layer hens aren’t treated poorly because they are not killed for meat. Yet the reality is that they are given no more room or mercy than the animals raised for meat.
Layer hens aren’t allowed to nest, for instance, or to care for their young. They are often housed in extremely cramped conditions with no access to sunlight. Furthermore, they are bred specifically for laying speed — to increase egg production per hen. Since they are not biologically designed to lay so many eggs, they suffer painful health problems as a result.
What Are Broiler Chickens?
Broiler chickens are chickens raised for meat. They are a part of poultry farming operations that allow eggs to be fertilized to increase production. However, the chicks who come out of these eggs aren’t raised by their mothers but are instead incubated before being hatched and moved to mass housing.
When chickens are allowed to live out their natural lives they can reach 15 years of age or more. Broiler chickens are typically slaughtered at 42 days of age. This is possible because they’re bred to mature more quickly than is natural, and their short lives are often blighted by serious health problems.
The Life of a Factory Farm Chicken
If you’ve ever wondered what a factory farm chicken’s life looks like, it’s brutal. These animals aren’t treated as sentient beings, but as a means to an end. They are born, raised, and killed solely to serve human beings’ diets.
Separated Before Hatching
Hens, like many female animals, have evolved to nourish and care for their young. They often help their chicks hatch, then begin teaching them how to be chickens. They help them to gather food and protect themselves from predators.
None of these natural bonding experiences happen on poultry farms. Broiler hens and laying hens have their eggs snatched away from them immediately. The eggs are then incubated under UV light and are left to hatch on their own.
Chickens lay eggs to give birth to healthy chicks. When we steal eggs from chickens, we deny them the opportunity to naturally propagate their species. At the same time, we continue the breeding of chickens for human consumption, which uses resources like grain in staggering quantities.
Never Allowed to See Parents
This isn’t the case on poultry farms. Chickens aren’t given the chance to form family units because eggs are stripped from hens the moment they’re dropped. This perversion of nature leaves hens distraught and confused, which can cause severe health problems.
No Dust Baths
All animals have instinctive behaviors that serve specific purposes. Many birds, including chickens, give themselves dust baths. They move around in dry dirt, dust, or sand to remove contaminants, such as parasites, from their feathers and skin. Dust baths are also a chicken’s natural way of marking their territory. They leave pheromones behind to tell other chickens where they’ve been.
Poultry farming doesn’t allow chickens to engage in dust baths. They are unable to clean themselves, and as a result, can suffer infections of the skin and feathers as well as immeasurable frustration.
Not Allowed to Socialize
Chickens are social creatures. If you watch them in the wild or on non-killing farms, you’ll notice that they roam and roost together. These natural tendencies toward camaraderie are essential for their survival as well as their emotional health. When they flock together, they stand a better chance of protecting themselves from predators.
Chickens can also develop positive relationships with human beings. Backyard coops allow chickens to roam free, enjoy the sunlight, get adequate food, and relate to one another naturally.
Never Feel the Warmth of the Sun
Poultry farming operations typically house chickens in huge barns or warehouses with no access to sunlight. Sun is essential for helping chickens to regulate their body temperature and produce vitamin D.
Imagine living your entire life in a basement. The air is close, the darkness pervasive. You have no way out and no control over your environment. That’s the fate poultry farming inflicts on chickens.
No Fresh Air
All animals need fresh air to thrive. Indoor air, whether in a home or barn, is not nearly as healthy. As much as we talk about pollution, even the standard human home sometimes contains more pollutants than the air outdoors. This is worsened in factory farming operations because of the extreme volumes of feces and urine that accumulate.
Never Build a Nest
Chickens naturally nest to keep their eggs warm until their chicks are ready to hatch. Not only do chickens on poultry farms lack the room to nest, but they don’t have access to the materials with which to build a nest, such as hay.
Crammed into Shipping Boxes and Sent to Factory Farms
Chickens are mere commodities to the poultry farming industry. Factory farmers don’t think of chickens as any more sentient than the components that make up an iPhone or a piece of furniture. In other words, poultry farming is no different from the assembly line at any manufacturing plant. The animals are transported based on efficiency and cost rather than comfort, and if a few of them die along the way — well, there are sure to be a few defective parts on an assembly line, right?
Living Standards of Layer and Broiler Chickens
In some ways, the living standards of layer hens differ from those of broiler chickens. Let’s take a more in-depth look at how these different types of chickens are forced to live out their lives — as short as they may be.
Layer hens, as mentioned above, serve one purpose: Laying eggs. Poultry farmers don’t care about much other than increasing production and making sure they can meet the quotas necessary to serve their customers.
Wire Battery Cages
Most layer hens live their lives in wire battery cages. These cages give the animals very little room and force them to reside next to and even on top of one another. They can’t clean themselves or turn around comfortably. Just like every other animal, chickens need exercise. Poultry farming denies them this basic animal right. They don’t get to stretch their legs, peck the ground, or participate in a range of other behaviors which chickens instinctively display.
Cages Stacked on Top of Each Other
To cram more chickens into small spaces, poultry farms use vertical battery cages. The wire bottoms don’t give layer hens a comfortable place to roost or stand, and there’s no way for the animals to escape in the event of a fire or other disaster.
Since battery cages have wire bottoms, feces fall from the top cages into the bottom cages. This is particularly harmful to the layer hens on the bottom of the stack, but feces and urine can also get caught in the feathers of the chickens directly below, creating an environment in which bacteria grow and cause disease.
Male Chicks Are Slaughtered
There’s no reason for poultry farming operations to keep male chicks in a layer hen operation. Since males can’t lay eggs, they’re slaughtered immediately after birth. They aren’t suitable as broiler hens because they haven’t been genetically selected for meat harvesting.
The wholesale destruction of millions of male chicks often involves gassing, boiling, or even grinding. These animals aren’t granted a humane death, and their brief lives are rendered entirely pointless.
Many poultry farming operations manipulate lighting to encourage laying hens to produce more eggs. This lighting manipulation “tricks” chickens into thinking that it’s laying season even when it’s not. Instead of just laying eggs in spring and summer, these chickens continue to lay in autumn and winter as well, which stresses their bodies.
Chickens Are Put on Starvation Diets
Chickens usually molt in the winter. They divert the energies they would use for laying eggs toward growing fresh plumage and staying warm. Their reproductive systems rejuvenate, and they lay larger eggs afterward.
The agricultural industry manipulates this natural process for monetary gain. In a practice known as forced molting, layer hens are made to survive on a starvation diet. This forces all the hens in a poultry farming operation to molt at the same time when the business desires so that they can be forced back into producing larger eggs. Many animals in the United States undergo forced molting up to four times over their lifespan.
Extreme Egg Production Causes Disease
Chickens aren’t designed to lay egg after egg. They have a natural cycle, just like every other creature on the planet, but poultry farmers manipulate it to suit their needs — and more specifically, their pocketbooks. Chickens are forced to lay far more eggs than they would naturally, through selective breeding, hormone injections, and other means. They develop severe diseases of the reproductive system as a result, most of which go untreated.
Premature Death Caused by Exhaustion
As any human woman knows, the process of gestating and birthing a baby is extremely hard on the body. The same is true of other animals, including chickens. These laying hens often die in just a few years due to sheer exhaustion — their bodies can’t keep up with the demands placed on them.
Broiler hens endure similar living standards to laying hens in a poultry farming operation. However, there are a few specific differences.
Factory-Farmed Chickens Are Born to Die
In poultry farming operations broiler chickens are born for the specific purpose of dying young. They often don’t get to experience fresh air, good nutrition, bonds with other chickens, veterinary care, or even the slightest kindness from a human being.
When we raise animals for the sole purpose of killing them later, we disrupt the ecosystem and deny animals their rights. Vegans and vegetarians work hard to reduce animal consumption, but there are plenty of meat-eaters who don’t think about poultry farming when setting the dinner table. Consequently, poultry farms continue to generate huge profits.
Slaughtered Very Young
Broiler hens don’t live long because lifespan impacts on poultry farmers’ profits. Farmers breed them to reach maturity in a matter of days rather than months, and they are often slaughtered before they reach two months of age.
When poultry farming operations can birth and slaughter animals in such tight cycles, they make more money. Unfortunately, this means that the animals grow too quickly for their bodies to handle, resulting in numerous health problems, even in their short lives.
Genetically Manipulated to Grow Too Fast
There’s no way to advance the aging process in chickens without manipulating their natural growth cycles. Through genetic mutations, hormone injections, and other “therapies,” these animals reach puberty far earlier than nature intended. However, their bodies aren’t adapted to support their advanced weight.
The extra weight that broiler hens put on at a very young age stresses their bones and joints. Many go lame before they are slaughtered, and some develop deformities of the legs. They end their short lives in extreme pain with no veterinary care because, again, their only purpose is to provide meat.
Bones and joints aren’t the only body systems to suffer because of premature weight gain. The extra pressure put on these chickens’ hearts often results in death before they are even slaughtered. The heart simply can’t keep up with the need to supply blood to the excess muscle and fat. Other organs, such as the lungs and pituitary systems, suffer as well.
Animals aren’t meant to grow at these accelerated rates, but poultry farming operations don’t care if they’re raising diseased chickens.
Stress Is Part of Their Lives Until the End
The tremendous stress placed on broiler hens is unconscionable, especially when viewed through the lens of the separate lives of millions of animals. They are constantly denied sunlight, fresh air, proper socialization, and access to good nutrition.
In stressful situations, animals become irritable. Survival instincts kick in, and they’re liable to fight one another to preserve resources like space and food. Chicken fights in poultry farming operations are extremely common, resulting in severe injuries to all the animals involved.
To curb chicken fighting, poultry farms often debeak these animals. In other words, they cut off their beaks, disfiguring them and denying them the means of protecting themselves. Chickens that have been debeaked can’t eat properly, which leads to digestive issues.
Broiler chickens are housed in overcrowded sheds with little or no concern for their physical well-being. They’re crammed in with their brethren, sometimes living on top of one another in pens littered with feces.
Feces aren’t cleaned from the sheds and pens in a poultry farming operation often, which means that these chickens live in their own filth. The bacteria that grow on feces can infect the chickens and result in diseased meat.
Salmonella is one of the most dangerous bacteria and is spread through feces. Human beings contract salmonella poisoning from infected food and water sources, including broiler chickens. When chickens contract salmonella before being slaughtered, the disease can get passed to the human consumer. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include digestive discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
The chickens must also secrete urine in their pens, which is left to stagnate instead of being cleaned up. The ammonia from urine can cause burned eyes, ears, and nasal passages as well as throat discomfort.
The End of the Road for Broiler Chickens
When broiler chickens reach physical maturity, they are transported from the poultry farming operation to their slaughter. This process results in more stress for the chickens as well as an often painful death.
Once they reach the slaughterhouse, broiler chickens face one of several inhumane deaths. Instead of giving these animals a quiet, peaceful passing, factory farms slaughter in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible. In other words, chickens are treated as commodities rather than living, breathing creatures.
Perhaps the most “humane” death for chickens is throat-cutting. In many slaughterhouses, the chickens are shackled by the legs and suspended by a bar or grate. This allows them to have their throats cut more efficiently and to speed up the bloodletting process. It’s faster than some of the other methods, but it’s also painful. Additionally, there’s typically no effort given to ensuring each cut is mortal. Some chickens survive throat-cutting, however briefly, which prolongs their suffering.
The chickens who survive throat-cutting are scalded to death in boiling water. The boiling water loosens the chickens’ feathers so they can be plucked bare in a matter of seconds. This, again, is a cost-cutting method that benefits the poultry farming industry but not the animals.
What Can You Do to Help End Poultry Farming
If you’re horrified by the idea of poultry farming, you’re not alone. The suffering these animals endure is enough to turn anyone’s stomach, but there are ways to fight against it.
Become a Vegan
Vegetarians have their hearts in the right place, but consuming animal by-products like eggs also contributes to animal suffering. As described above, laying hens in poultry farming operations aren’t treated with any more kindness or dignity than broiler chickens.
Vegans don’t consume or use animal products of any kind. If you become vegan, you use your dollars to send a message about your values: that you won’t support poultry farming in any way.
Donate to an Organization That Fights Against Chicken Abuse
The money you save on animal products could be used to help fight chicken abuse. Animal rights activists are tirelessly fighting to end animal abuse of all kinds, including the abuses that take place on poultry farms. Donating your money or time can make a huge difference in furthering these causes.
Join an Organization to Help Fight Chicken Abuse
You can also get actively involved in fighting animal abuse. Start or join an organization that investigates poultry farms, exposes the industry for what it is, and lobbies for stronger laws.
What Does the Future Hold
We report on all animal matters at Sentient Media, and we want you to know the facts. While reading about poultry farming might be disturbing, education and awareness are the only paths toward ending the suffering of millions of animals.
From dairy cows to layer hens, animals need us to fight for their basic rights. They can’t stand up for themselves or end this vicious cycle, so we have to step in and make our opinions known.
Join us by signing up for our newsletter, checking in with our blog, and speaking out about poultry farming at every opportunity. Just sharing this blog post on social media can raise more awareness and contribute to the end of poultry farming.
Are you considering a vegan diet? What’s your biggest struggle?
Grant is the co-founder of Sentient Media. He currently lives in Brazil and has traveled across dozens of countries on assignment.